All right, who’s ready to be innovative and entrepreneurial at 7 am?
Fortunately the January 25 PSU SBA Breakfast Briefing at the Ecotrust building was well-stocked with good, strong coffee, courtesy of panelist Augusto Carneiro, founder and CEO of the Nossa Familia coffee company. Halfway through my first cup, my synapses finally started firing, I started chatting with my table mates, and I remembered why I had decided to come to this early-morning event in the first place. To my right was Luke Gudman, a young entrepreneur with a dream to repurpose used smartphones for virtual reality — a process that required another cup of coffee for me to understand. Across the table was Benjamin Jaspers, operations manager for Vanilla Bikes, a bike-building business that has grown to 15 employees, manufacturing in Portland.
I’m a full-time MBA student considering a career pivot yet to be determined, so I’m always curious to learn more about how people make things happen, where their ideas come from, how they turn their ideas into profitable enterprises. The panel consisted of Tory Campbell, founder of Mary’s Artisan Foods and interim director of the Portland Development Commission, Charlene Wesler, Founder of the Gaufre Gourmet, Scott Roth, CEO of Jama Software and Augusto Carneiro, founder and CEO, Nossa Familia. Serving as moderator was Angela Jackson, director of the PSU Center for Entrepreneurship and the Portland Seed Fund, which is investing aggressively in startups, especially in technology, food and beverages.
The first panelist to share her story was Charlene Wesler — and what a story! She was a stay-at-home mom with three boys who loved to cook, earned a degree at a culinary school and loved her work as chef. Then her world turned upside down in 2008, when her husband was convicted and imprisoned for domestic violence against her. “I basically had to reinvent myself,” she said.
She returned to school, created a business plan in class, and before long she was an entrepreneur, running her own food cart. In retrospect, she would have made more money working for minimum wage. But she stuck with it, learned from her mistakes, wrote a check for every last penny in her checking account and launched a Kickstarter to get the rest, and in November of 2014 she opened her restaurant in Hillsdale. She works with social service agencies to hire domestic violence survivors, and her staff has grown to 15 people. She has also launched a line of waffle mixes that she sells online, so yeah, she’s busy.
Scott Roth’s experience could hardly be more different from Charlene Wesler’s. He is a graduate of the PSU MBA program who has been charging his way through the high-growth tech industry since graduating. He just turned 40, and he is now CEO of a business on the cusp. His job is to grow Jama from about $20 million to over $100 million in annual revenues. If that sounds like a crazy goal to you, keep in mind that it is pretty much what happened at the last software-as-service company where he worked: from 200 employees to 2,000 in five years, went public, sold to Salesforce for $2.5 billion.
So yeah, he’s busy too, but in a completely different way. He didn’t have to empty out his bank account, but he does have to keep his VC investor happy, or else. As you might imagine, the guy does not lack for confidence in himself, or in the technology Jama has built and honed under founder Erik Winkrest — technology that has far-reaching applications in everything from medical devices to automated cars.
Next up was Tory Campbell, who works for PDC by day and his startup food company by night. Felton and Mary’s Artisan Foods carries on the legacy of Tory’s grandparents, and their love of good barbecue. When it was snowing in Portland, Tory was out back barbecuing; he loves the social aspect of barbecuing as much as he loves the food. He compares his products to good songs in the key of G or C: he doesn’t travel to the Himalayas to fetch some rare spice or salt; he just builds on the recipes his grandparents taught him, the tastes people love, the family stories people can relate to.
Augusto Carneiro, founder and CEO of Nossa Familia, is also building on his family legacy. His great grandpa harvested his first coffee crop in Brazil in 1894. Augusto moved to Portland to play tennis and study engineering at the University of Portland, only to realize that he hated engineering and wasn’t good at it. So he came up with a plan to bring the family farm to Portland, invested $400 in his first FedEx shipment, and started doing single origin coffee long before it was a thing.
These days you can find Nossa Familia coffee all over Portland. The business has grown to 35 employees and recently earned status as a B Corp for its progressive social and environmental policies and practices.
Carneiro meets regularly with a group of CEOs, and one of the rules of this group is, no giving advice. Instead of telling each other what to do, they listen to each other. Instead of offering advice, they share their experiences.
That struck me as a smart rule. For all we learn in graduate school about debt-to equity ratios, blue ocean strategies, the customer value proposition, the 5 Cs and 4 Ps of marketing, and the importance of emotional intelligence, nothing beats the simple act of listening to people who have summoned the courage to build something of lasting value.
Ben Jacklet graduated with an MBA from Portland State University. He has worked for the Portland Tribune, Oregon Business Magazine and the Portland Business Journal.